Venezuela is fining bakeries for not selling enough bread and allowing queues of shoppers to form on their doorsteps.
As President Maduro struggles to keep an iron grip on the collapsing economy, police officers have been ordered to inspect more than 1,100 bakeries and impose sanctions on those who they claim are restricting bread sales.
Yet as Venezuela heads for bankruptcy, shipments of flour have plummeted and bread has become scarce.
Venezuela’s economy collapsed when the oil price crashed two years ago, triggering a severe financial crisis. Venezuelans are experiencing shortages of everyday goods and inflation is at 330 per cent this year. Ana Calderas, the owner of a bakery in Caracas, said: “It’s just horrible. You get fined for not selling. Who is the trader who doesn’t want to sell?
“If we don’t sell, it’s because we don’t have [goods] to sell.”
Ms Calderas said that the bread shortage had been made worse because “there is nothing else to eat. With no rice and no pasta in the supermarkets, people resort to other things to eat. And the quickest thing is bread,” she said. “We are in the eye of the storm, because you can see there is a problem if there is no bread, but fining bakeries does not resolve the issue.”
The government insists that there is enough wheat in the country and that the bakeries are restricting sales to cash in on the black market.
Last month the ministry of food announced that bread production would be guaranteed until the end of the year but would not specify how much wheat the country was producing.
President Maduro has deployed 1,137 officials, drawn from police ranks, the army and a union of socialist women called UnaMujer, to inspect bakeries. According to government guidelines, a loaf of bread should cost no more than 180 bolivares (14p) but in Caracas it is hard to find bread at less than 400 bolivares (30p) a loaf.
In another attempt to boost the economy, the government started a scheme to trade guns for consumer goods.
More than a thousand Venezuelans handed in their weapons in return for microwaves and freezers, the interior ministry said. All the guns handed over were destroyed.